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Sudan Seeks Closer Cooperation With Russia

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] F [/yt_dropcap]or decades, Russia and Sudan have maintained a strong economic and politically strategic partnership. And still, there visible and promising signs that both countries want to see the deepening of relations, especially in the economic sphere, in the years ahead. In this interview, H.E. Mr. Nadir Babiker, Ambassador of Republic of Sudan in the Russian Federation, discusses some of the significant aspects of the current relations with Moscow correspondent, Kester Kenn Klomegah, and the following are the interview excerpts.

What’s the current level of Russia’s economic presence in Sudan and that of Sudan in the Russian Federation? In the first place, what are your government’s key priorities and expectations from Russia?

– The Russian economic presence in the Sudan is strong in the field of mining. There are three companies, who received licenses for gold exploration, one of them started production in 2015, and the other two are still in the process of exploration. Other Russian companies are operating in the services sector, such as demercurization of the traditional mining sector, geological mapping, mineral labs, training and other mining services in Moscow. Also there are some Russian companies in the field of oil and gas services. There are agents for some Sudanese companies, who import from the Russian Federation.

During the four sessions of the JMC between Sudan and Russia between 2013 – 2016, we signed 32 Agreements and MoUs in the field of mining, electricity and Dams, food security, banking, assembly of agricultural machinery, invest promotion, industry, environmental protection. All these sectors represent priority to us.

Can you briefly tell us which economic sectors are attractive for foreign investors (e.g. U.S., EU, China, France) generally and what investment incentives are currently available for investors or foreign players?

– The fields of oil and gas, mining, infrastructure and agriculture, are most attractive sectors for foreign investors. There are companies from China, India, Canada, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and Jordan, Malaysia and Indonesia. They invest in these sectors.

Even before Republic of Sudan separated from South Sudan, the volume of bilateral trade between Russia and Sudan has significantly been low over the years. How would you estimate bilateral trade between Russia and Sudan now?

The volume of bilateral trade between Sudan and the Russian Federation is below our expectations, for 2016 it was $ 186 million. It does not reflect the real potential of trade between the two countries. But there is an increasing trend on trade between the two countries during the last three years, the last year it increased by 150% compared to 2015. That was the second jump since 2013. This year we are expecting more increase, there is more demand for the Russian wheat, we are introducing for the first time the Sudanese vegetables and fruits to the Russian market.

What are the main problems and challenges in efforts for working towards its improvement? How can the trade imbalance, somehow, be reversed?

– As I said, the potential is huge, we need to exert more efforts in trade promotion, and in arranging business trips, as well as encouraging business people from both sides to participate in trade exhibitions in Moscow and Khartoum. We also managed to arrange visit for the concerned authorities from the Ministry of agriculture and animal resources of the Sudan to Moscow, to explain the arrangements and procedure of quality control of our exports and their compatibility with the international standards.

What, in your view for example, your government position negotiating for trade preference that are available for African countries and that allows export of some products to the market in Russia?

– Of course, yes, and thanks to the Russian government, Sudan exports will enjoy a preferential treatment.

Do you also consider promotion of small and medium scale businesses as part of strengthening economic cooperation between two countries? And, in your view, how can this be pursued effectively?

– Actually, we are focusing on the small and medium scale business, because it satisfies our requirements for the transfer of technology, and there is a mutual desire from both sides to cooperate in this field. We also visited four different regions in the Russian Federation, to extend cooperation with industries in these regions. Interview by Kester Kenn Klomegah in Moscow.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Africa

African Development Bank Seeks U.S. Support to Alleviate Africa’s Food Crisis

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With Russia’s “special military operation” still continuing in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine and its impact especially on Africa’s economy, the President of the African Development Bank Group, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, made a compelling case for the United States to back the institution’s $1.5 billion emergency food production plan. The comprehensive urgent plan seeks to avert a looming food crisis in Africa caused primarily by Russia-Ukraine crisis that started late February.

The African Development Bank is prepared to meet this new challenge and has developed an Africa Emergency Food Production Plan. Within this plan, $1.5 billion will be used to support African countries to produce food rapidly – produce 38 million metric tons of food. The Russia-Ukraine conflict is a huge factor in fertilizer prices hiking upwards of 300%. Analysis has shown that Africa faces a fertilizer shortage of 2 million metric tons this year. It is estimated will cost about $2 billion dollars – at current market prices – to source new fertilizer to cover the gap.

The total value of the additional food production is $12 billion. The Africa Emergency Food Production Plan will deliver climate-resilient agricultural technologies to 20 million farmers. The $1.5 billion plan intends to source $1.3 billion of its own resources. With U.S. support to reduce the $200 million financing gap – this can ensure the Africa Emergency Food Production Plan’s success.

Chairman Senator Chris Coons, Ranking Member, Senator Lindsey Graham, and distinguished Members of the U.S Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, appreciated the opportunity to testify about the U.S. response and policy options for global food security crises.

The AfDB chief, and a panel of witnesses, testified about global food insecurity and persisting impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic before the US Senate subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. Among others, senators Chris Coons (Delaware), Lyndsey Graham (South Carolina), Dick Durbin (Illinois), Chris Van Hollen (Maryland) and Roy Blunt (Missouri) participated in the hearing.

Distinguished members of the Subcommittee are spearheading efforts for African solutions to Africa’s immediate, medium, and long-term challenges. US has a strong support for the Africa Emergency Food Production Plan, and will allow Africa to avert a looming food crisis and use the opportunity to drive structural changes in agriculture, to unleash the full potential of Africa to become a breadbasket to the world.

Ukraine exports 40% of its wheat and corn to Africa. According to the United Nations, 15 African counties import more than half of their wheat, and much of their fertilizers and oil from Ukraine and Russia. As the Russia-Ukraine conflict rages, Africa is also dealing with a 30-million metric ton loss of wheat and corn that won’t be coming from Russia. The cost of bread is now beyond the reach of many Africans.

Senator Coons, Chair of the Senate subcommittee, stressed that the US should move fast and provide sufficient funding. “We should be concerned and even alarmed about the widening food security crisis that this war is causing for hundreds of millions far beyond Eastern Europe,” he said. Senator Graham expressed support for the establishment of a global fund for food security.

Speaking live via videoconference from Accra, Ghana, Adesina said the proposed Africa Emergency Food Production Plan would result in the rapid production of 38 million tons of food across Africa over the next two years. “The African Development Bank, with your support, is prepared to meet this new challenge and others head-on,” he said.

The plan is anchored on the provision of certified seeds of climate-adapted varieties to 20 million African farmers. With the disruption of food supplies arising from the Russia-Ukraine war, Africa faces a shortage of at least 30 million metric tons of food, especially wheat, maize, and soybeans imported from the two countries.

Adesina said the African Development Bank would invest $1.3 billion in the plan’s implementation. He called on the US to make up the funding balance. “With US support to reduce the $200 million financing gap – we can ensure the Africa Emergency Food Production Plan’s success,” he said.

The Africa Emergency Food Production Plan is currently before the African Development Bank’s Board of Directors for approval. Also providing testimony were David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme and Ms. Tjada D’Oyen McKenna, Chief Executive Officer of non-governmental organization Mercy Corps.

McKenna said, “A perfect storm is leading to heightened global food insecurity, worse, much worse than the previous food crises over the past decade.” She cited the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change as factors sharpening the current food insecurity.

Beasley said food insecurity had already begun to rise sharply before the war. He said 135 million people were acutely food-insecure before the onset of the pandemic. “Covid comes along and that number went from 135 million to 276 million people marching toward starvation.”

Adesina emphasized that the bank’s food production plan would foster the production of nutritious food rather than simply calories. “One of the things we will be supporting through this emergency food production plan is bio-fortified foods. Sorghum fortified with iron. Nutritional supplementation is important,” he said.

The president said the AfDB was setting up meetings with international fertilizer companies to discuss ways to ensure that African farmers continued to have access to such inputs. “If we don’t solve the fertilizer problem, we cannot solve the food problem,” he said. According to Adesina, the Africa Emergency Food Production Plan would have a long-term impact on Africa’s food productivity. The initiative will “drive the structural changes in agriculture, to unleash the full potential of Africa to become a breadbasket to the world.” 

Furthermore, the fact is that the AfDB is helping to fend off a food crisis. On the other side, Africa must rapidly expand its food production. The AfDB has taken a few measures including mitigating the effects of a food crisis through the African Food Crisis Response and Emergency Facility – a dedicated facility being considered by the AfDB to provide African countries with the resources needed to raise local food production and procure fertilizers.

According to Adesina, the continent’s most vulnerable countries have been hit hardest by conflict, climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic, which had upended economic and development progress in Africa. He warned that Africa, with the lowest GDP growth rates, has lost as many as 30 million jobs on account of the pandemic. Now the impact of the Russia-Ukraine crisis has brought an unimaginable suffering and extra hardships around the world.

Russia-Ukraine crisis has severe impact on Africa, only half the continent voted agaisnt Russia at the United Nations. Today, its focus is on feeding Africa and is doing a lot to address the global food crisis. Africa has an estimated 33 million smallholder farms. They are key to food production and the livelihoods of millions of Africans whose work and lives are linked to the agricultural sector. The African Development Bank’s strategic priorities are to light up and power Africa, feed Africa, industrialize Africa, integrate Africa, as well as improve the quality of life for the people of Africa.

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Will Southern Africa be the next Sahel?

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the shift in the geopolitical world order that followed is undoubtedly at the epicenter of the global focus at the moment and with a reason. Nonetheless, there are copious other issues of political instability that have been causing civil unrest, with the majority of them happening in Sub-Saharan Africa. The most prevalent example is the insurgency wave in the Sahel, which started with the coup in Mali on 2020 that quickly created spillover effects in Guinea and Chad. Burkina Faso has been the latest victim of the military takeovers trend, where Lieutenant Colonel Paul Henri Damiba took and his military junta ousted President Roch Kabore. These disruptive events stem from the broader distress that exists in the local communities to the point that there is no opposition to the violent transition of power within their own country. Similar patterns within the society are expanding across the continent, nonetheless, with Southern Africa in particular facing several destabilization efforts within the last years. Hence, questions ought to be answered. What are the reasons behind this instability wave in the Sahel? Can they be found elsewhere in the continent? Will Southern Africa be the next Sahel?

Reasons for the instability

Understanding the magnitude of the strain the society in the Sahel is facing is paramount to be able to anticipate a potential replication in this insurgency in the rest of Africa. A factor of uttermost importance is the  surge in extreme hunger and poverty, the biggest one in the world, at a regional level. Only in 2021 the Sahel saw a spike of 67%, while Burkina Faso alone was the champion in this category, with a staggering 200% rise in extreme hunger. And while hunger has been deemed a key driver of hunger, it is not the only one. Climate change also has a strong reinforcing effect on that regard. It has been gauged that the region faces a 50% more severe stress from climate change than the global average. Lake Chad alone has seen a 90% decline of its surface, which has been the main source of fresh water for nearly 40 million people around the region.

To add to that, over the past 5 years the Sahel has become a place for action for several jihadist groups. Boko Haram has been expanding its hits to Chad after Nigeria, whereas in 2017 JNIM emerged as a serious jihadist threat to the region. Only in the first half of 2021, 420 civilians lost their lives during massacres and raids from violent extremist groups, most of which in motorbikes.

The three foregoing factors resulted in a perfect storm in this part of Africa, that was devilishly challenging to tackle from the regional leaders. The common theme of these three issues was insecurity, on one hand in the traditional manner of lack of safety and security, and on the other hand on the insecurity in the food-water-energy nexus. This was, thus, seen as a vacuum of power that ought to be filled by military leaders and resulted in a reverse trend to the previous one of democratization that existed in the region.

One of the same in Southern Africa?

The economic state of affairs presents numerous similarities in the southern tip of the continent, as a side effect of the pandemic. During the previous two years, Zimbabwe saw a 23.9% of the poorest people losing their jobs and increased the tally of the people who lived in extreme poverty by 1.3 million. This formulated a migration crisis, as many Zimbabweans attempted to find better conditions in neighboring South Africa, that increased tensions and took them from a national to an international level.

A similar situation is observed in the two small landlocked states of Lesotho and Eswatini as well. Endeavors to reduce poverty have blatantly failed and this has resulted in desperation among the masses. Here the civil unrest was expressed rather internally, where clashes in both countries with the local authorities throughout 2021 were audibly violent and resulted in many deaths in addition to the existing clashes between the different political entities. The energy stemming from the clear dissatisfaction of the population over the political status quo can easily be harvested by the military elites who, especially in Maseru, have portrayed their appetite before.

Complementary to the struggle with poverty, the region is recently facing terrorism from jihadist groups. More precisely, Mozambique has been dealing with insurgencies in Cabo Delgado, caused by Islamist militants, since 2017. The increasing violent attacks by the local Al-Shabab militia, which is deemed to be connected to the Islamist State(IS) peaked in 2020, when almost 1800 people lost their lives. Connecting these disruptive actions with the expansion of terrorism from the North to the South of the continent, it would be safe to infer that such groups would be eager to spread to South Africa on the long-term.

Climate change is also present as one of the myriad issues that have been a burden on the local communities. Temperatures are rising at double the global rate in the region and this is having a detrimental effect on food security, as droughts are becoming substantially more severe effect, devastating crops and livestock. Out of the few “survivors” in this category, the majority is then damaged by the intensified insect infections.

The landscape looks alarmingly similar to the one is Sahel, as several common patterns can be identified. However, there are also some points of incongruity. A main difference exists in the structure of the regional blocs, as ECOWAS in West Africa comprises of two zones , which is not the case for SADC in Southern Africa. Furthermore, the leading country in ECOWAS, due to its GDP share and power, is Nigeria, which is already dealing with extremist insurgencies and hence it becomes increasingly challenging to aid other member states, either diplomatically or militarily. This does not apply to South Africa, which, despite its struggles in various aspect of its society, is managing to maintain relative stability internally and has a strong military presence which allows the country to also aid peacekeeping processes in the neighborhood. In addition, DRC, lying at the north end of the SADC, has had some successful efforts of deterrence against extremist violence and this can function as a roadmap, provided there is enough regional collaboration on security.

One final pattern  that has been observed in one region and is not yet that evident on the other, despite signs that we should worry, is the presence of Russian PMC’s. Wagner Group, being the prevalent example, has had major impact in the North of the continent, in particular in the Sahel, Sudan and throughout the Central African Republic. However, this should not be grounds for relief in Southern Africa, since CSIS has reported that the Russian private military has been deployed in Botswana, Zimbabwe and DRC, among others. The isolation of Moscow following the invasion of Ukraine is only going to make its approach to foreign affairs more aggressive and militarized, so it is paramount to monitor the Russian PMC’s movements in Southern Africa

In a nutshell

The African continent is facing severe hits to its societal cohesion, security and democratization efforts, with Sahel being the region that faces mayhem, which caused a wave of coups. The patterns that cause this major upheaval are being replicated at a worryingly accelerating pace and are gradually reaching the southern tip of the continent. There lies one of the continent’s two largest economies, namely South Africa, but also resource-rich countries of uttermost importance for the global energy landscape, such as DRC and Mozambique. Comparing to the situation in Western Africa, there might be some common points, but there are also some points of divergence that might prove to be critical for the successful deterrence of the extremist threat and the avoidance of a series of military takeovers. It is paramount that the following recommendations are taken into consideration for that to happen:

-The SADC sets up a special security task force mainly responsible organized by the respective Organ on Politics, Defense and Security (OPDS). An increase on funding to this organ ought to be allocated, but at the same time it should be ensured that these expenditures do not create unwanted imbalances within the respective militaries.

-Special attention ought to be paid towards Russian PMC’s. Amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the isolation of Moscow, aggression efforts from the Kremlin are only projected to rise and actors like the Wagner Group are expected to geographically broaden their sphere of action.

-Hitherto, it would be helpful that other international security institutions are involved. NATO reaching out to Mauritania to assist the Sahel in fighting extremism was a good step forward and a similar approach could be taken with South Africa as an example, with the objective of signing an agreement on collaboration. Another institution that could be involved, in a diplomatic manner, could be the EU, predominantly for intraregional conflicts, such as the looming one between South Africa and Zimbabwe.

-In terms of food security and climate change, the SADC needs to reach out to the global community and the international institutions for further financial support packages after raising the issue in the UN World Food Program.

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Russia’s Growing Strategic Interest in Eritrea

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has reaffirmed Russia’s strategic interest to make coordinated efforts aim at building logistics hub along the coastline of the Republic of Eritrea during diplomatic talks attended by Foreign Minister of the State of Eritrea Osman Saleh who, on April 27, paid a working visit to Moscow.

Ahead of the diplomatic talks, there was the speculation that Russia would use Eritrea that voted against the United Nations resolution on March 2. Late February, Russia started “special military operations” directed at demilitarizing and denazifying in the post-Soviet republic of Ukraine.

After the heated debates and discussions, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution demanding that Russia immediately end its military operations in Ukraine. According to reports, the Assembly had all 193 UN Member States in attendance. A total of 141 countries voted in favour of the resolution, which reaffirms Ukrainian sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. 

Reports say that Africa, however, presented a divided front that reflected in the attitude for voting. Out of the 35 countries that abstained from voting, 17 (nearly half) were Africans. Twenty-eight African countries voted in favour, seven others did not participate in the vote, while Eritrea backed Russia. Eritrea’s expression of support has policy significance for Russia. It glaringly showcase its expression of traditional friendly interest and solidarity. 

With the changing global politics, Russia and Eritrea noted the similarity of views on the main current issues, including the importance of making international affairs more democratic and ensuring the right of nations to choose their own future, their political and socioeconomic development paths and models, Lavrov said during the joint media conference.

“We presented our views on the situation in and around Ukraine. We pointed out the goal of our actions is to protect people from the military threat posed by the Kiev regime and to demilitarize and denazify that country. We expressed appreciation for Eritrea’s objective and responsible position regarding the situation in Ukraine,” he said.

Highlighting the general developments in the African Horn region, Lavrov reassured Moscow’s continuous contribution towards stronger stability and security in Africa, including on the basis of the African Solutions to African Problems principle.

Both ministers reviewed some aspects of preparations for the second Russia-Africa summit during the third quarter of 2022. On economic cooperation, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in its official media statements, said the agenda for Russia-Eritrea cooperation has a key focus on the implementation of potential joint projects, including the logistics hub in Asmara.

Eritrea, bordered by Ethiopia in the south, Sudan in the west, and Djibouti in the southeast, has an extensive coastline along the Red Sea. It could be the busiest shipping lanes, with the controlling access to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. The commercial activities revolve around this strategic location as a transit point and the strategic location also makes the country prime for an increased military presence. This is the strategic importance for Russia.

Against this backdrop, Lavrov and Sahel have previously discussed this logisgics project. For instance, 0n August 31, 2018, Lavrov held talks with Saleh in southern city of Sochi. In fact, that year 2018 marked 25 years of diplomatic relations between Russia and Eritrea. 

Lavrov spoke extensively about economic cooperation. According to him, Russia’s truck maker KAMAZ was already working in Eritrea, supplying its products to that country, as was Gazprombank Global Resources, which was building cooperation in the banking sector. The same year 2018, concrete talks were held to build a logistics centre at the port of Eritrea, that makes world’s class logistics and services hub for maritime transportation through the Suez Canal and definitely set to promote bilateral trade.

Still that same year, Eritrea was interested in opening a Russian language department at one of the universities in the capital of the country, Asmara. Lavrov further indicated: “We agreed to take extra measures to promote promising projects in the sphere of mining and infrastructure development and to supply specialized transport and agricultural equipment to Eritrea.”

According to official website of the Foreign Ministry, the information posted in 2018 to media questions concerning the Russian side that noted positive trends on the Horn of Africa, and steps being taken by both sides to settle conflicts in the region, Lavrov replied: “we cooperate in many diverse areas: natural resources, all types of energy engineering, including nuclear and hydroelectric energy, and new sources of energy, infrastructure in all its aspects, medicine, the social sphere, transport and many more.” 

Regarding the conflicts in the Horn of Africa, Lavrov pointed back in 2018 that “Eritrea and Ethiopia are our longstanding partners. We wish them success in stepping up the normalization process that will benefit all, including the people of both countries, in the economy as well.”

Russia and Eritrea have shown interest in deepening the inter-state dialogue and economic cooperation, objective conditions exist for enhanced interaction between our two countries in the international arena. The Republic of Eritrea plays an important role in sub-regional affairs. As already known, despite its location it has some competitive advantages and at the same time a number of problems with its neighbour Ethiopia. 

The undemarcated border with Ethiopia is the primary external issue facing Eritrea. Its relations with Ethiopia turned from that of cautious mutual tolerance, following the 30-year war for Eritrean independence, to a deadly rivalry that led to the outbreak of hostilities from May 1998 to June 2000 which claimed approximately 70,000 lives from both sides. A peace treaty between both nations was signed on 8 July 2018, formally ending the conflict with Ethiopia.

Eritrea is now a member of the African Union. The Eritrean government previously withdrew its representative to the African Union to protest the AU’s alleged lack of leadership in facilitating the implementation of a binding border decision demarcating the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The Eritrean government has since January 2011 appointed an envoy, Tesfa-Alem Tekle, to the African Union.

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